PHIL-In Genesis saw the need to replace singer Collins as a chance to grow. 'The new boy,' chosen from a sea of voices, has fit in quite well


September 02, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

NEW YORK -- It's hard to get a lot of drama out of the guys in Genesis.

Lord knows, there's enough potential for the stuff. After all, the band just replaced Phil Collins -- who had been its extremely recognizable front man for the better part of two decades -- with a largely unknown 28-year-old Scot named Ray Wilson.

Moreover, the group's new album, "Calling All Stations" (Atlantic 83037, arriving in stores today), finds the band edging away from the easily listenable pop format of its last several studio albums. Instead, these new songs hark back to the old Genesis -- moody, theatrical, almost orchestral in their ambition. It wouldn't take too much imagination to see this album as a slap at the lightness of Collins-era Genesis.

But no. Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks are having none of it. Not only do they describe the split with Collins in the friendliest terms, but as they sit with Wilson in the atrium at the Four Seasons Hotel here in Manhattan, their quiet, gentlemanly demeanor suggests that the whole thing is really no big deal.

"It wasn't that different," shrugs Rutherford. "I should say, first and foremost, that the departure, the split with Phil was a very, very amicable thing. We're still extremely good friends.

"But when it happens, you then look toward the plus side of it, which is that everything [is] different. The voice gives a whole different texture to the sound of the group."

Given his boarding-school background and posh diction, it's tempting to read a certain stiff-upper-lip perseverance into Rutherford's explanation. But he and Banks seem honestly excited by the prospect of heading out with a new version of their old band. At this point in their career, making interesting music is a far more attractive proposition than worrying about generating new hits.

That's part of the reason the two weren't interested in finding a well-known face to replace Collins. "We obviously considered everybody," says Banks, diplomatically. "But we didn't really want a famous person. We wanted to try and keep the character to the group intact, and if you bring in a famous name, it starts to become something else. You're seen as a bit of a supergroup or something, you know?

"Ray was as famous as they came, really."

Known abroad

It wasn't as if Wilson were a total unknown, of course. Although neither he nor his band, Stiltskin, had any profile on this side of the Atlantic, they had made quite a splash in Britain in 1994, when a single called "Inside" -- which had been used on a TV ad for Levi's -- made it to the top of the British charts.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Stiltskin released an album, "The Mind's Eye," which did respectably, but the band's career stalled soon after. "Stiltskin disbanded about a year before I was approached by Genesis' management," says Wilson. "The album at some stage was sent to Mike and Tony, and it seemed that they liked the voice enough to audition me. That's basically how the process began."

"We listened to hundreds of people," says Banks. "We heard the Stiltskin album, and we just felt that Ray's voice had certain qualities that we felt we could really use in the group."

Of course, Banks and Rutherford had to see how Wilson fit with the band's writing process. "We only ended up seeing four people in person, and all four had something about them that was quite good. Obviously," Banks says, "or else they wouldn't have been there, you know? But Ray was definitely our favorite choice -- I think from the word go."

Collins' departure left two vacancies in the band -- both singer and drummer -- and Wilson was brought on simply as a singer. "I'm appalling as a drummer," he says, smiling.

For now, that's as far as the official lineup goes, but when Genesis hits the road later this year, it will be augmented by drummer Nir Zidkyahu (who plays on much of the album) and guitarist Anthony Drennan.

Joining a band that had cut its first singles before you were even born would be intimidating for anybody. Making things more complicated for Wilson, though, is the fact that Banks and Rutherford have known each other even longer than that, having both attended Charterhouse, a private school in Surrey. (Rutherford played guitar in a band called the Anon, while Banks had paired with fellow Charterhouse student Peter Gabriel in the band Garden Wall. The two bands joined together to form Genesis in 1967.)

Even now, Rutherford jokingly refers to Collins as "the new boy." How on earth did Wilson deal with two bandmates with such long-standing ties?

The real 'new boy'

Directly -- sort of. "Being a Scotsman, we're very direct at home," he says, as tea is served. "The way I approached this was to have ..." He pauses. "Calculated directness." All three laugh, and Wilson continues. "I think it's a good technique to spend more time listening than talking when you're in a new environment," he says.

"Also, I didn't want to come along and be this overpowering creature," he adds.

"But he is," deadpans Banks.

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